From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
As Bret Michaels hits the road on his 200-city solo tour, don't be surprised should you spot him in your local airport...crying. "The worst thing about being a rock star dad is when my daughters see the bags being packed and they don't want me to go-that rips my heart out," says Michaels, relaxing at his Arizona home while his girls ride scooters around the sprawling 10-acre property. "I've cried many a time in the airport. My daughters are my true loves and they always will be."

The little ladies with a firm grip on Michaels' heart-Raine, 9, and Jorja, 4-are equally smitten with their dad. "We sing together and we have a secret handshake," says Raine, adding with a grin, "Sometimes Daddy doesn't say no!" Michaels, 47, who kicked off his run on The Celebrity Apprentice March 14, may need to work on the discipline aspect of daddyhood ("It's tough for me because I'm still a big kid," he admits), but he's got the fatherly pride part down pat. "Raine came home the other day and every single grade was A-plus. I go, 'Are you sure you're my kid?'" he says with a laugh. "And both of them can sing and play really well; they take piano and guitar lessons. It rocks. I love that they're free spirits."

That particular gene surely came from Michaels, the longtime frontman of the glam-metal band Poison. "Let's be honest, I wanted to be a rock star for two reasons," he says. "To meet women and to live life on my own terms." His prowess at both led to his recent foray into reality TV: three seasons of Rock of Love, a dating show featuring Bret Michaels superfans vying for his affections. "There's no doubt that there is real dating going on," he says of the show, "but I would never invite 25 women over in real life. [Hugh] Hefner can be the king. I do well in one-on-one relationships."

That includes the one he has with the mother of his children, Kristi Gibson, 39, whom he dated off and on for more than 10 years. "I love long relationships much better [than dating], and [she's] part of the reason I wasn't ready for a fourth Rock of Love-I want to see where our emotions are and where our relationship stands," he says. "It's a work in progress. We love and respect each other, but as they say in a Journey song, 'Marrying a music man ain't always what it's supposed to be.' There's a lot of lonely times when I'm on the road, and she doesn't want that." So while they're technically not together now, says the rocker, "I would never count out me and her settling down."

Without formal plans for a new season of Rock, Michaels is trying his hand at another type of reality TV on Apprentice. (He's competing for the American Diabetes Association; he's lived with Type 1 diabetes since he was a child.) "Me and Donald Trump, we keep different hours," he jokes. "My punctuality was not good on the show." His boss would agree. "It's a great source of irritation," says Trump. But Michaels, he adds, "has a great sense of business. He's very astute."

The rocker also recently recorded the single "Nothing to Lose" with Miley Cyrus for his seventh solo album, Custom Built, due in May. That was a thrill for his daughters ("Raine wrote her book report on Miley," he says)-but also a target for critics who blasted him for recording lyrics like "she slowly gets undressed" with a 17-year-old. "I wrote the song about an adult couple, and Miley sings some harmonies on it," he says matter-of-factly. "As Miley said about it at the Oscars, 'Everyone just chill.'"

Between work commitments, Michaels is happy to kick back with his daughters in Arizona. "The first thing we do when I come home is what we call 'an explore,'" he says. "Jorja gets all ready like she's Indiana Jones Jr., and we go on long walks through the caves on the property and look for rattlesnake skins. And we have to go to the mailbox. That's our tradition-we get out the old golf cart and get the mail. It's big doin's. Then we just hang out and barbecue."

When he's not home, "he'll call six, seven times a day," says Gibson. "He got in trouble last year for calling Raine during school!" Adds Michaels: "I was like, 'Hey, it's Dad, what are you doing?' And Raine goes, 'Dad, I'm in school. You can't call now!'"

On Sunday nights this spring, the girls are watching Dad's new reality show (Raine was allowed to watch a Rock of Love finale, but Jorja never saw the decidedly PG-13 show), and Michaels expects a little friendly ribbing when they see him onscreen. "My kids know that I pace when I talk," he says. "Jorja gets her little cell phone out and she'll do it too." She's not the only one channeling her elders. "I vowed I would never become my dad," says Michaels. "But the other day, the kids are running around the pool and I go, 'Hey! Slow down!' In that moment, I became my father. I was like, 'What just happened?'" he says with a laugh. "So it goes."

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  • With reporting by Brenda Rodriguez/Arizona.